November 9, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Matthew 6:26-32 (NRSV)
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
God can and does speak to us through creation. Sometimes that speaking comes in specific messages or reminders, like Jesus’ lesson from the lilies that we need not worry. But often our consideration of creation works in us wordlessly, as we simply enjoy the presence and goodness of our creator God through his created world.
A combination of an early spring heat wave, a late spring frost, and weeks of constant rain took a toll on my garden and fruit trees in 2023. For some reason, however, my half-dozen tomatillo plants—after looking sickly for a few weeks in late May and early June—took off and thrived. By mid-summer, they were tall and thick and full of yellow blossoms. For the next three months, every time I stepped into the garden to weed or harvest, I would hear loud buzzing coming from the tomatillo patch. Looking more closely, I could see the plants loaded with bumblebees, moving from blossom to blossom.
I am also an amateur beekeeper. I like to keep two bee colonies going in my backyard both for the honey and for the pollination of our garden and fruit trees—although, between the bears and the mites, I often end up down to one hive or none, despite my electric bear fence. In the late spring and summer, I often stand out by my hive and watch the bees landing with their legs coated in brightly colored pollen. Even better is finding a patch of blossoms in my yard and garden—ajuga, or clover, or for a brief period in May the red maple trees, or the tomatillos—and watching the mix of honeybees, bumblebees, and mason bees landing and collecting. With some especially large blossoms, I will sometimes see a bee almost engulfed by a flower, rolling and spinning as though it were taking a pollen bath, completely (and literally) immersed in its work.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers to “Look at the birds of the air . . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.” In both cases, Jesus made a point that the objects of consideration—the birds and the lilies—didn’t seem to be laboring at all, and yet God takes care of them. Jesus’ encouraging reminder or lesson is that his followers need not worry about what we will eat, drink, or wear; God will take care of us as he does the lilies and the birds.
I’m not sure what spiritual message Jesus would draw from the honeybees and bumblebees, however. When I am watching and considering the bees, they are most certainly busy at work. The honeybees are involved in the wonderful mystery of gathering pollen and nectar and turning it into honey. Watching the almost playfulness of a large bumblebee rolling and bathing in pollen, I might not call it “toil.” Yet it certainly counts as labor. If the bees don’t work, they won’t eat in the winter.
I find, though, that when I take the time to consider creation, I don’t always need to force my consideration into some spiritual message that could fit on an inspirational poster or sermon bullet point. Indeed, though I make a regular practice of considering lilies and birds, trees and bees, bears and brook trout, I rarely walk away from those times with some brilliant flash of insight or some clear spiritual lesson.
What I do know, though, is that watching a bee take a playful pollen bath in a flower blossom brings me great delight. I walk away from that experience with a deeper sense of God’s presence and goodness, and hand in hand with that comes a deeper sense of peace. In a world that can quickly weigh me down with news of war, famine, natural disasters, and violence, piled on top of the things in my own life that worry me, that experience of God’s handiwork in creation is what I need more than any sermon I might draw from my consideration of the lilies. It turns my focus away from that which would make me anxious. That may be one of the most important reasons Jesus calls us to consider the lilies.
How might you build into your life a regular time or times to reflect on creation—to follow Jesus’ exhortation to consider the lilies?
Read Psalm 104. (You might read it over the weekend, perhaps repeatedly or in shorter sections.) If you live someplace warm, consider the lilies, and perhaps also the bees if you have any that are active. Alternately, consider the squirrels that scurry around the yard or the local park, or the way the birds interact with one another on your backyard feeder. Or take a walk in the park and consider one of your favorite trees. (If you don’t have a favorite tree, find one!) Try writing a few more verses that could fit into Psalm 104.
Lord, once again we join with the author of Genesis in saying that your world is good. Though the world is full of sin and violence, and you have called us to live in the world and not ignore its suffering, it is also a world that still has great beauty and you have invited us to delight in creation. Let our times of considering the lilies and the birds refresh us and encourage us and strengthen us to do the work you call us to do; let our consideration of your creation be like a pollen bath for a bee that nourishes us to go on with our work. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Year of Plenty.
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Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear and The Voices of Rivers: Reflections on Places Wild and Almost Wild. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park. He lives in Vermont with his wife, dog, and cat, not far from three married sons, and is an active member of Memorial Baptist Church. Matthew is also a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.